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School Board aims to fix bill

State body OKs list on applied technology

The state Board of Education is willing to compromise to settle the decades-old fight over who controls applied technology education, but it won't be put in a compromising position.

There is a difference, school board members decided Friday, in adopting a list of principles that will underlie their efforts to fix a legislative proposal designed to fix applied technology governance.

Applied technology will be the focal point of a special session of the Legislature that Gov. Mike Leavitt plans to call this spring. In the meantime, public education and higher education, the two agencies that have controlled and sometimes fought over applied technology the past 30 years, will be hammering away at HB34.

A substitute version of the bill, supported by Leavitt, passed the Utah Senate the last night of the 2001 Legislature on Wednesday. It stalled in the House, however, after several representatives argued they felt they were being forced to adopt a historic change in Utah education without anywhere near enough time to adequately evaluate its ramifications.

Ramifications dominated a long discussion by State School Board members at their monthly meeting Friday. They haven't lost the motivation to resolve the problem, but several members said the legislation doesn't help clarify who has jurisdiction and it may, in fact, cloud the issue.

The bill would form a Utah College of Applied Technology, which essentially would be a 10th school in the State System of Higher Education. It would have a president, a board of trustees and the stature of the other nine colleges and universities in the system.

The current Applied Technology Centers, which have been solely under the purview of public education, not higher education, would become five stand-alone Applied Technology Colleges. Five additional colleges would be formed and integrated with the College of Eastern Utah, Snow, Dixie,

Utah Valley State College and Salt Lake Community College. All 10 would be under the Board of Regents, the higher education governing board.

Seeing the word "college" everywhere in the bill feeds a long-standing public education paranoia that if higher education ever got its hands on them, applied technology centers would be turned into little universities that would have a lot more to do with degrees than with helping people become certified in a technical skill.

It's not just content — even the bill's introductory clause bothers board members. The second sentence of the bill states, "This act establishes the Board of Regents as the ultimate governing authority for post-secondary applied technology education in Utah."

That sounds like an implied abdication of public education's role to State School Board member Janet Cannon. "I think (supporting that) is a desertion of our purpose."

To ward off the wrong assumption, the board declared in its list that, "Governance of applied technology education programs for secondary students in regional applied technology programs will be under the state Board of Education."

Cannon and other board members agreed the bill's additional requirement to develop a competency-based associate of applied technology degree "smacks of academic creep" and would signal the beginning of technology skill-building being swallowed by higher education's prime purpose of generating more academic degrees.

Supporters of the bill say the purpose of mentioning the associates degree would ensure that if a student decided to continue school after becoming certified, academic credit earned would be accepted by a college or university. Also, the technical schools would need an assurance that credit would transfer among schools within the technical college itself.

Even mentioning the phrase "lower-division credit" sounds a little like "injecting cancer carefully beneath the skin and seeing what happens," said board member Denis R. Morrill.

The funding scheme in the bill also bothers board members, who said they see no assurance that money for the high school-age students who pay no tuition but who make up about half the enrollment of the applied technology programs would be ensured.

The board likes the funding element of the proposed bill, which would allow the new Utah College of Applied Technology to make budget requests and to receive funding directly from the Legislature. In order to make their position absolutely clear on the point, board members reiterated the notion in their list of principles.

That kind of autonomy in funding is not enjoyed by the other nine colleges and universities. They don't receive money directly from the Legislature but group their budget proposals and all go through state Board of Regents.

Regents will no doubt bring that issue and others up during its regular monthly meeting at Dixie State College later this month.